Learning the basic fly fishing techniques will help get you on the water quickly and become more proficient over time.
One great thing about fly fishing is that after a while nothing exists of the world but thoughts about fly fishing. – Norman Maclean
Fly fishing is to many the ultimate form of angling. There are no flashy lures and scented baits as fishermen have swapped their baitcasters for carefully crafted imitations offered straight to a target fish. Fly fishing at its core is about two things: the water and the fish.
Fly Fishing Gear
Fly fishing gear, such as rods and waders, differs greatly from traditional fishing gear and as such, it tends to scare prospective anglers from even trying. Fly gear is surprisingly simple compared to the host of rod and reel combinations traditional anglers use. Consider borrowing or renting gear in order to learn the basic fly fishing techniques.
Rods for fly fishing are longer and more flexible than a “regular” rod as it is used to deliver the fly further distances. While a longer rod makes casting easier it can hang up in trees much easier too. Opt for a rod between 6-8’. Rods are also measured in “weight” where 1 is very light for small trout to 10 salmon. There are even more stout rods for tarpon and other saltwater fishes. The beginning angler would do well with a 5-6 weight rod. That range can cast larger flies for bass but still work for small flies targeting panfish or trout.
Fly reels need to be well machined and also fit with the setup of your rod. To avoid the headache of shopping for separate pieces I recommend buying a combo pack from a reputable maker. Since you cast with your dominant hand the reel’s handle is operated with your “off” hand. Don’t worry if you are a southpaw, handles are easy to change from right to left on fly reels.
The contents of your spool on a fly reel are composed of several segments. The backing is stiffer and provides extra length should your fish make a long run. The fly line is the brightly colored heavier weight line that provides the weight when casting. The tippet is a tapering section of line that attaches the line to the leader. This tippet prevents too much wake or slap on the water that would spook the fish that you are presenting your fly to. The leader is a fine monofilament line that attaches the tippet to the fly. The leader becomes almost invisible in the water allowing the fly to be as natural as possible. If you are growing worried about selecting all of these different segments; buying the combo pack will save you the worry. Combo packs come with all your line needed for the rod.
Types of Flies
Understanding basic fly fishing techniques consists of knowing the various types of flies. Dry flies are your most common flies. These mimic various types of insects that float or land on the water’s surface. Dry flies are usually made of foam or other buoyant material.
Nymphs. Nymphs are the larvae stage of aquatic insects, so these flies are fished just below the surface. Nymph hatches typically produce great fishing but are short-lived, so having a few nymphs in your arsenal is recommended.
Streamers are flies designed to resemble swimming baitfish. Typically streamers have painted eyes and are made from feathers, hair, or similar flashy material.
Basic Fly Fishing Techniques
Now that you have your rod and flies ready to go it’s time to practice your technique. The first thing any fly fisherman should do is practice casting. For the beginner, the overhead cast is the foundation that all other casts are based on.
With your dominant hand hold your rod with your thumb on top and point towards the end of the rod. Your hand should be in the center of the handle. Hold the fly line between your index finger and the rod, to keep the line from running out the spool.
With the rod pointing a little downward from about waist level, pull out about 10 yards of line (about 4-5 pulls depending on your arm length), gently wiggle your rod so the line feeds out the tip.
Take a step back, so that the line is in front of you. With your wrist straight, lift your arm slowly until the line is tight. Swing your arm back so that the line is now behind you. Bring your arm back to the 2 o’clock position and pause for a minute to let the line fall in a loop behind you. Quickly swing your arm forward and stop at the 10 o’clock position.
The line will now be cast out in front of you. The direction the rod tip is pointing will determine the direction the line goes. With more force in the swing, you will get more distance. As the line extends out and into the water you will want to gently bring your arm down, this will prevent the line from slapping the water and spooking any fish.
After you have your fly in the water you don’t reel, just pull the line with your off hand. This is called stripping. Like with any type of fishing you will figure out what cadence produces strikes, stripping fast will cover lots of ground and works well for streamers but a shorter strip works best for dry flies.
For a beginner, I recommend selecting a local waterway that has few trees or overhanging obstacles. If possible, a lake or pond for the lack of current. A babbling Colorado mountain stream would be a great place to fish, but likely frustrating for a beginner trying to make their first casts.
By that same token while Colorado’s Animas River brown trout are an anglers bucket list item, a beginner can score their trophy panfish in a local pond. Sunfish, especially during their spawn, are easy to spot on their beds and make excellent targets for distance casting.
As with every type of fishing, writing about the basic fly fishing techniques is too much to be put into one article. After the basics are learned, sportsmen can fill their logbooks with tips, tricks, and secrets that local fishermen or experience have taught them.
Fly fishing is a pursuit that encompasses the best aspects of fishing. Great fly fishermen pay attention to the temperature, the watercolor, and the insects. Will you be the next fly shop hero that times the nymph hatch just right, or bests the streams resident bruiser fish out of its pocket of white water?